Animal activists are up in arms over a new Safari Park near Kleinmond, saying it has been approved despite objections. File pic.

The recently established animal rights group, Wildlife Rights, has expressed concern that transformation within the Animal Interaction Tourism sector is lagging.

This follows Cape Nature’s recent approval of Lamloch Safari Park Kleinmond, despite numerous objections regarding the introduction of elephants by owner Craig Saunders. Approvals of this nature speak volumes of the lack of understanding of the implications of animal interaction tourism.

These animal interaction “experiences” have far-reaching effects for all wildlife, but the ripple effect extends. 

The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) 2018 report cautioned that South Africa’s tourism brand value could potentially be negatively affected by as much as R54 billion loss in revenue over the next decade, if the Captive Lion Breeding Industry is allowed to continue.

It is important to note that not all wildlife encounters are unethical, but it is extremely important that governing bodies in South Africa help to establish solid ground rules to prevent unethical tourism taking root. 

Several Safari’s in the Eastern and Western Cape remain compliant and these run the risk of being painted with the same brush when non-compliant animal interaction “sanctuaries” are allowed to operate legally.

Saunders reportedly said that there will be no elephant “petting” at Lamloch

However a quick tour visit to the websites of his “Elephant Sanctuaries” in Hartebeespoort, Hazyview and The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, home to the proposed Lamloch elephants, shows images of members of the public standing next to the elephants; further images show visitors posing next to elephants with the elephants trunks in their hand, while other visitors walk alongside these majestic pachyderms. 

The South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) recognises the need to toe the line with regards to ethical and responsible animal interaction tourism. During the 2018 annual SATSA Conference a panel discussion on Animal Interactions - How to Craft a Compliance Process - was held.

 In response to this Ian Michler, Consultant and Campaign Co-leader for Blood Lions expressed his scepticism and said: “Dealing with compliance only is not enough. This will allow many to continue with cruel and irresponsible practices under the veil of conservation or education.”

SATSA recently organised a consultative workshop on animal interaction and presented initial findings from their research. Following the workshop, a group known as The Coalition responded to SATSA.

In their response, The Coalition wrote:

 “SATSA and SA Tourism really need to convey that they are leading the charge to restore this consumer confidence, particularly around the topic of human entertainment involving captive bred wildlife for commercial gain. With global corporations such as TripAdvisor, Instagram and Expedia under pressure to stop promoting or selling animal interactions from tourists themselves should see this as further motivation for strict guidelines and accreditation. It is now more important than ever that Brand SA does not continue to be damaged by these matters.”